But today, Baptists around the country should come together to celebrate the birthday of a man, who in a hundred years time will have left such a lasting impression that to exclude his name from this list would be nigh impossible. Today is the 65th birthday of Baptist theologian (and former principal of the college I attended) Professor Paul Fiddes. He is not simply one of the most renowned Baptist scholars of today; his contributions to Christian writing and scholarship would be difficult to parallel. And today I wish to add my voice to so many others (Andy Goodliff, Simon Woodman, Sean Winter, Louise Polhill, and Catriona Gorton to name a few) in wishing Paul a very happy birthday, and thanking him for his work, his effort, and his influence. I genuinely count myself as extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to study under his guidance.
Many people have already given some of their favourite quotes from Paul' works. The one I'd like to add to the pile comes from a chapter that Paul contributed to a book he edited; "Faith in the Centre", which has been a crucial part of my own formation and ministry:
The story [to which the Christian church bears witness] then is the result of meeting this speaking God in many times and places. It is the pattern that the community of God's people places upon the meetings of God with Abraham in the pains of Ur, with Moses at the burning bush, with prophets in the temple sanctuary out in the wilderness, with wise men in their schoolrooms, with people in the triumphant experience of exodus and in the despair of exile. Finally the story is shaped by meeting with God in the face of Jesus Christ, on the dusty roads of Galilee, at the humiliation of the cross in Jerusalem, and in the unconfined fellowship meals with the risen Lord. The story is human response to revelation, inspired by the Spirit of God. The story is also the place where God's people can encounter God again even as they tell it; the telling of the story is a rendez-vous with the God who desires to be open to us and draw us into the fellowship of God's own life.
As the church reflected upon this story it re-told it in a more doctrinal form, in the shape of the Trinity. The story was nothing less than God's mission from eternity; it was the story of the Father sending forth the Son into the turmoil of human history at a particular moment in the person of Jesus, and the gathering into God of many sons and daughters through the persuasion of the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is the greatest story of all, the supreme meta-narrative.
The church of Christ therefore has a culture, which takes form in a structure of words. The story has come into being in a particular language, in particular places. As Lesslie Newbigin puts it, the Christian community offers a 'plausibility structure' for explaining the world, as all cultures do. It has its own way of linking events together into a coherent whole, in which it finds hope for the future.
Paul Fiddes (ed.), Faith in the Centure: Christianity and Culture. Oxford: Regent's Park College. 2001, pp 79-80.Happy birthday Paul, and thank you for sharing your inspiration with us so often, and so beautifully.